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Our journey to ALL

by Joan McGrath, member, Academy of Lifelong Learning (ALL), Lincoln Land Community College 
Joan McGrath

We moved to Springfield in 2003 after 20 years of teaching in Alaska. My brother lived here at the time, but we knew very few other people. We realized that we needed to find activities through which we could meet people and make friends. 

Initially there was a women’s group that provided me with activities and a woodworking group for my husband. He found a golf course where he could practice his favorite game, and I found somewhere to go swimming. We joined a pinochle group and a bridge group. We heard about LLCC’s Academy of Lifelong Learning (ALL) and joined. And then we spectacularly flunked retirement and both went back to work. We loved what we were doing professionally but it didn’t leave much time for many outside activities. We found we could not participate in as many of the ALL activities that we wanted to, so we let our membership lapse.

Fast forward a number of years. We were once again trying retirement. Being older and wiser, we realized that we had changed as well as the groups that we originally belonged to. Once again, we turned to ALL and decided to give it another try. This time it stuck with a vengeance.

We found ourselves reading the same book each month for Booklovers. Two people who had very different tastes in books, and we had something in common to discuss even beyond the monthly meeting of the group. We went out to eat with Meet, Greet & Eat to explore restaurants new to us and also to revisit favorites. At Breakfast Round Table, I listened to speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds and with many different occupations. I began to write about those years in Alaska in the Scribes group, and now I get to pick the prompts each month. There are some excellent storytellers in the ALL family. 

We went on WOW (Wander on Wednesday) day trips to learn more about the area. And we stayed closer to home with Around Town to see places we never knew existed. I tried Yoga for the first time. Recently I was part of an effort to begin a Pinochle group that has met with great success. I hear Pickleball is also a recent addition that has become very popular. Members are learning more and more about a variety of subjects through History Hunters and Chautauqua as well as keeping active with Path Finders (a walking group), Pedal Pushers (for bike riders) and Senior Golf. Special Subjects are explored in three-part meetings focusing on topics of interest to a variety of our members.

We were active in several of these programs when along came the Big Read. With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and partnerships with a variety of other Springfield organizations, ALL took on a series of events centered around the book “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren. We joined the planning committee and ended up driving around to the many local libraries in the towns surrounding Springfield, delivering copies of the book to each library. Once again, we found out about new and interesting places really close to home. We participated in many of the activities during the Big Read program, meeting more folks and learning more about so many subjects.

Our most recent application for another grant from NEA was not funded but we’re going ahead with some activities based on the book “The Bear” by Andrew Krivak. We are encouraging ALL members and anyone else to read the book. It’s an interesting, futuristic story with themes of survival, parenting, loss and mythical animals. We are hoping to have several activities that will highlight the contents of the story. Perhaps someday we will find another opportunity to feature a book in another community-wide Big Read.

I have been elected to positions on the ALL Board so I can help with planning and sustainability. We are currently gifted with 400-plus members and over 15 programs and activities in which they can participate. Dues run only $60 per year, and you can participate in as many or as few of the activities as you want. It has become a mainstay of our life here in Springfield. We are so happy that our journey brought us to ALL.